Research in development and application
Extensive national, EU- and non-EU funded research has been made on the technical possibilities, innovation and upscaling of nanomaterial design and potential nanotechnology applications? The EUoN has mapped the patents applied in different countries and main application domains. Currently more than 36,000 patents related to nanomaterial and nanotechnology have been filed worldwide of which ca. 5850 are filed within EU member states. Further information can be gained on ECHA’s nanodata website: https://nanodata.echa.europa.eu/.
The potential risks of manufactured nanomaterials and nanotechnology have also received high attention since around 2005. The European Union has put particular effort in a series of research programmes (EU FP6, EU FP7, and H2020) and self-organization through the European NanoSafety Cluster (https://www.nanosafetycluster.eu/).
Risk research studies cover for example: fundamental research to understand how nanomaterials may interact and affect biological systems and the environment, and their transport around in these systems; whether nanomaterials pose new health risks and new biological effects; how exposure would occur and to what extent in relevant work and use scenarios. Later research has increasingly focused on understanding and further development of test methods and how risk assessments may be improved. This has also involved development of new methods, models, tools and approaches.
It is a complex task to assess the safety and toxicity of nanomaterials and nanoproducts. Some of the key elements are:
- What are the physical and chemical characteristics of the nanomaterial and which characteristics are needed for understanding effects and make a nano-risk assessment.
- How are the physical-chemical and biological characteristics and effects measured in a correct, repeatable, and reliable way and which artefacts must be controlled for.
- How can a nanomaterial be described and classified from a chemical and risk perspective.
- To what extent may nanomaterials affect human health and the environment and can novel cell-based test methods and computational models be used to assess nanomaterials hazards?
- Does specific types of nanomaterials remain unchanged or transform in biological and environmental compartments and would secondary effects be possible due to their transformation?
- To what extent and in what form are humans and the environment exposed to nanomaterials during production, use and disposal?
- To what extent are nanomaterials released and in what form and which pathways during production, manufacturing, use and disposal and how can this be measured or assessed.
- How can exposure and environmental concentrations be measured or modelled and quantified in a reliable way?
- Can Safety-by-Design be used successfully during early phases of nanomaterial and product development to minimize potential health risk of nanomaterials and exposure?
Understanding on stakeholder positions and risk perception on nanotechnology has also been in focus in some projects and are important factors for successful market implementation of the nanomaterials applications.